How We Can Restore And Enhance Transparency – My Plan To Let The Light In

Dear Neighbor:

A transparent and accountable government is essential for West U residents to be able fully participate in their City and to trust that public decisions are being made with residents’ best interests foremost in mind. In pursuing this goal, we now have the opportunity to not only restore what has been eroded in recent years, but also to establish a new standard of openness in West U that will serve as a bulwark against the further encroachment of adverse influences into our local, neighborhood politics.

To achieve this, I have the following plan:

  1. Make elected officials’ Campaign Finance Reports (CFRs) readily available to residents. Although CFRs are public documents, they are not easily obtainable by residents without a Public Information Act request. As a resident, you should be able to know at a moment’s notice who has donated to an official’s campaign.  CFRs should be posted to the City website and easily accessible by a link included on the official’s bio page. As an example, my most recent CFR can be found here.
  2. Revise the Council’s Rules of Procedure
    • Expand the Definition of Conflict of Interest to Include and require disclosure of
      • Relationship(s) with either the person or entity seeking action by the Council or with the person(s) representing them.  As an example, our rules do not address the situation where the person appearing on behalf of the entity seeking council action is doing so as a private individual but, in their professional life, they are the supervisor or employer of a council member.
      • Donor relationship(s). Our rules currently do not consider political donations, regardless of size, to be a potential conflict of interest.
      • Other Relationships of Special Influence.  An example of a relationship of this type not covered by our rules is where a Council member is a current or former officer or director of the entity seeking Council action, but they are or were unpaid.
      • It is important to note that each of the foregoing scenarios has actually occurred at one time or another in West U, so this is not mere supposition.
    • Permit true abstention. Our current rules do not allow a Council member to remain present and yet abstain from participating in the deliberation or the vote.  We need to amend the rules to allow person’s presence to count for quorum but allow them to voluntarily abstain, without it being counted as a “yes” vote as is currently the case.
  3. Provide Adequate Remote Access to All Public Meetings  
    • Improve Audio Quality in Council Meetings. Effective remote participation requires high-quality audio, and many residents have complained about the quality of our present system.
    • Make all Board & Commission Meetings fully remote-accessible.  Our Boards and Commissions generally meet at times (2:00 pm in the afternoon or 6:00 or 6:30 p.m. in the evening), on days (Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday), or at locations (e.g., the Rec Center) that often preclude attendance in person by many, if not most, residents. We should make sure that these meetings are all fully remote accessible via Zoom or similar services.
  4. Improve the process for Public Comments. Residents who do not attend a meeting but wish to make a comment must currently e-mail the City Secretary their comments and expressly request that their e-mail be read into the record. Residents who do attend and wish to comment must sign up prior to the meeting on a paper form placed outside the Council chambers. I would make the following changes:
    • Create a separate dedicated e-mail address for submitting public comments.
    • Create an online form to enable residents who plan to attend to sign up to speak in advance.
  5. Subject Political Action Committees and Paid Political Consultants to Transparency
    • Political Action Committees (PACs). Require PACs that are supporting/opposing candidates in West U elections to provide copies of any reports and other documents filed by them with the Texas Ethics Commission to the City Secretary.
    • Paid Political Consultants. Require paid political consultants who are assisting a candidate or PAC to register with the City Secretary and identify the candidate or PAC they are working for/with.
    • Post the Information Provided by the PACs/Consultants to the City’s Website.
  6. Enhance transparency within the Council itself
    • Provide Equal Access to Information. Have staff-level communications and meetings with outside public and private entities handled by City Manager and staff, with simultaneous reporting to all council members, in order to ensure everyone has the same level of access to information.
    • Increase Council Member Participation. For communications and meetings between the Mayor and elected officials of other jurisdictions (as well as with executives of outside entities such as CPE, AT&T, etc.), include another council member on a rotating basis and/or as their particular skill set, experience and/or personal network make appropriate or advantageous. 
    • Increase Awareness of Board & Commission Activities. Include a monthly agenda item for Council liaisons to Boards and Commissions to provide brief (under 5 min.) reports to Council concerning activities of their assigned Board/Commission, including any requests made by them to Council or Staff.

I look forward to working with you to renew a culture of transparent, open government at City Hall and to establish the best-in-class level of accountability that our City deserves, and I ask for your vote so that we can do so.

Your Neighbor,
John P. Barnes